The Nikon D800 is an exciting camera; it usually represents a major step up by a hobbyist or career photographer. While exciting, outfitting the D800 can also be a daunting task. Looking through a poor lens this excellent camera can pick out problems the lens has, so may not produce much better photos then a mid-range body. It is easy to say buy all the best lenses and the D800 will give you great results, but if you want to be thrifty there are cheaper lenses that can fully utilise the D800. As normal, the best value route to super sharp images are prime lenses. I have selected the 24mm and 85mm f/1.8 G for being excellent value and sharp. I also discuss the Nikon 50mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.8 which are peculiar because many reckon the f/1.8 to be the better buy. All these primes are G series, which equals high quality plastic/rubberised construction, though not metal. In terms of mid-zooms you could use either the popular 24-70mm f/2.8 or the versatile 24-120mm f/4.0 VR. Finally is a very good third party lens, the Sigma 150mm macro, which has great sharpness and bokeh.
Costing nearly half of comparable lenses while performing very well, the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G is an excellent value lens for landscape photography. This focal length is in the middle of the wide angle classification, but if you want wider the price goes up significantly (but the quality also shoots to the moon) so this is a good middle ground. Important to the D800, this lens is sharp; allowing you to take detailed shots. The centre is always crisp and the edges get very sharp at f/4.0. The 28mm weighs 330g and is compact so not a big deal to have with you all the time. Bokeh is also good quality meaning good results when isolating your subject. Is there weakness to this great lens? Unfortunately vignetting is a problem even into moderate apertures. So you need to consider how this trade-off will affect you.
The Nikon 50mm G range is a bit back to front with the f/1.8 focussing faster and being sharper then the f/1.4. With this in mind the f/1.8 is a bargain. The f/1.4 is still a sharp lens, but at middle apertures the centre and edges are clearer on the f/1.8. Autofocus is slowed by the f/1.4s huge focussing ring, but manual focus is more accurate. All is not lost, in other aspects the f/1.8 does outperform, it has more blades for superior bokeh and vignetting is not as pronounced. It is also of course slightly faster, so if you are after an affordable f/1.4 lens then this is a great option, if you want ultimate value sharpness then don’t be tricked by the f/1.8’s low price.
The 85mm is another excellent value and highly regarded Nikon prime. The 85mm focal length is quite versatile so you can expect to use this lens a lot. Resolution in the centre is excellent wide open and the corners reach high levels at f/5.6. Vignetting is present wide open but generally controlled so shouldn’t make too much of an impact. Importantly for this portrait friendly focal length, this lens has smooth bokeh. The biggest weakness is merely ‘fast’ auto focus; as opposed to really fast that you can get in other lenses. Nonetheless, this is a sharp, wide aperture and great length lens for not too much money.
If you are looking for the convenience of a zoom then there are two Nikon mid zoom choices; the excellent quality 24-70mm f/2.8 and the less sharp but more versatile 24-120mm VR. Price-wise, the 24-70mm is nearly 50% more expensive, with which you gain sharpness and bokeh. The 24-120mm is equipped with a longer focal length and Vibration-Reduction (VR), making it the more flexible zoom. Vibration-reduction helps overcome the moderate f4.0 aperture when you want speed, but obviously not in low-light. The smaller aperture does help by lightening the lens, at 670 grams it is nearly a quarter kilo lighter than the 24-70mm. Something which you may want to consider if you want to carry a zoom all day. But, how do they perform optically? The 24- 70mm is an extremely sharp lens that is sharp even when pushed to extremes and works great with the D800. And the 24-120mm is slightly less sharp. Don’t be too discouraged though, being compared to the 24-70mm attests to the 24-120mm’s resolution rather than its blurriness. The centre is always excellent throughout apertures and focal lengths and the corners soften when pushed to extremes. Looking at bokeh exposes a wider difference with the 24-70mm capable of some creamy backgrounds while the 24-120 is merely average.
Outside of the expensive Nikon 70-200mm II, there are affordable primes which will give you the reach and great quality shots for less. The Sigma 150mm EX DG OS HSM Macro is one, although it is rather specialised. The 150mm focal length and good bokeh allow you to isolate your subject with great results; so produces great portraits. Being a macro lens, when coupled with the D800 you can take amazingly detailed shots of things like flowers or insects. Resolution is good at f/2.8 then raises to excellent at f/8.0. Although from a third-party manufacturer, this is an excellent lens.
With the D800 lens selection can be a very expensive endeavour. There is of course the ‘holy trinity’ of the Nikon 14-24mm, 24-70mm and 70-200mm II. But outside of this there are many affordable options. The G series f/1.8 primes are great value and upgrading to f/1.4 is not always necessary and in the case of the 50mm lenses, possibly a bad decision. The mid-range zooms are an interesting pair. The 24-70mm costs a bit more but is a stellar lens that is worth the extra money. The cheaper 24-120mm VR can do a bit more because it is lighter, has VR and is obviously longer. This lenses resolution will still impress but the bokeh is sadly average. Finally Sigma deliver a very high quality lens that the D800 will shine with, macro capabilities allow you to really show off all 36 million pixels.